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Dead girl's family harvests her eggs: Was it unethical?

ivf, in vitro fertilization
To fertilize an egg the old-fashioned way, sperm need to be able to swim. Not so with in-vitro (test tube) fertilization. In fact, when IVF technicians use tiny, robotically controlled glass straws to insert a single sperm inside an egg, they sometimes beat the sperm with the glass until it stops moving. The only thing that matters is the DNA inside the sperm. istockphoto

(CBS) Tragedy struck an Israeli girl's family last month when a 17-year-old girl died after being hit by a car. But a controversial court decision might allow a part of her to live on.

The Israeli-English newspaper Haaretz reports Chen Aida Ayash's family was granted a request by an Israeli court to harvest and freeze her eggs. The family had already agreed to donate their daughter's organs when they obtained the court order.

A medical source familiar with the case told Haaretz that the family originally wanted to fertilize her eggs with donated sperm and freeze them as embryos. But the court order only permitted harvesting the eggs - for now.

Nobody knows for sure why the Ayash family petitioned for this procedure.

"We don't know the reason why Chen's parents wanted it done," Maayan Maor, spokesperson for the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Sava, where the harvesting was done, told The Guardian. "We just received the court order and did the procedure."

The case set off a global ethical debate. Some viewed it as a landmark decision for families seeking continuity after a spouse or child passes away. Others thought the decision set a dangerous precedent.

"Using the gametes of a dead child to create another child creates a troubling precedent," Laurie Zoloth, director of the center for bioethics, science and society at Northwestern University told ABC News. "In a world in which thousands of children are lost and starving, the use of medical technology for this end raises other questions about the just use of shared resources."

Ethical reasons aside, some debated the legality of potentially fertilizing the eggs. Even though the eggs were already harvested, the family would need to prove to the court that Chen actually wanted children to move forward with fertilization.

"It strikes me as unlikely a minor child would have had the capacity and maturity to meaningfully assert an interest in motherhood, let alone motherhood after her death," Judith F. Daar, professor of law at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif, told ABC. "Families must try to set aside their understandable desire to keep a part of their child and focus on what their child would have actually wanted."

Apparently the family had a change of heart amid the media firestorm. The Independent reported Chen's family dropped their bid to fertilize her frozen eggs. But the ramifications of the court ruling will surely carry on.

"It's revolutionary," Irit Rosenblum, a lawyer who founded the family rights advocacy group, New Family, told The Independent ."It's great that people have a chance to decide"

The harvesting and freezing of eggs is a delicate procedure called oocyte cryopreservation. Doctors perform an egg retrieval by inserting an ultrasound-guided needle into the vagina to locate the ovaries to remove the eggs, which are then immediately frozen. Sometimes people harvest and freeze eggs when fertility is threatened by cancer or other diseases, according to the NYU Fertility Center. Other times people opt to freeze their eggs if they currently are not in a situation conducive to childbearing  but feel they might want that option at a later date.

Does a family have a right to harvest eggs from a deceased child? Tell us what you think.

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